Is Whey Protein Paleo?

There’s always questions about whey protein powder (a somewhat controversial topic among the paleo circles), so what’s the answer?  Let’s address it.

Question: “I’m currently using a protein powder that contains whey protein, pea protein and brown rice protein; is that OK to continue using on a paleo diet?”
Response:  To give you the least complicated answer, the “official” stance is that protein shakes are not paleo. Period. Real food is always best. Paleo on the Go specifically doesn’t support drinking your meals.  Part of the reason is because shakes bypass the biological process of chewing to signal the start of digestion. 
Reality is, it’s a hot topic in the community and everyone is different.  It’s important to listen to your body.  After completing a total elimination for 30-90 days, take it from there.  However, it’s not Paleo.  
Here are some resources to look at when educating yourself and making your decision:
According to Amy Kubal, RD in this article about whey protein:

If getting/staying lean and enhancing health and longevity are also on your list of ‘things to do’ – then liquid food will not the best choice make.  Why?  Two-words: Insulin Response.  Granted after you workout your insulin sensitivity is heightened and it takes less of it to clear the post workout meal glucose from the blood; but this phenomenon should be taken advantage of not hindered by a liquid induced blood sugar surge.  Liquids require less processing and digestion, so instead of the slow steady blood sugar rise that happens with a dose of starchy carb and some protein from real food sources; the ‘shaker bottle’ cocktail results in a zero to 60 increase in blood glucose levels.  This pedal to the metal rise requires insulin fast and even though sensitivity is heightened the end result is more insulin being produced to clear the sugar bombarded blood.  This folks – is NOT what we’re going for!


And her follow up post looking at real food options to post workout meals here offers some whole food solutions to get the results you want:


Whey Protein Alternatives:

  • Packets or easy-open cans of water-packed tuna, salmon and/or sardines
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Pre-cooked steak or chicken sliced into easy to eat strips
  • Mini paleo meatloaves (make your meatloaf in muffin pans)
  • Jerky (get the good stuff – Slim Jim’s are NOT the ‘good stuff’)
  • Pre-cooked frozen shrimp (just run them under water to thaw and they’re ready to eat!)

Carbohydrate Options: 

  • Pre-cooked sweet potatoes (baked, roasted, etc) – these are even good cold!!
  • Packets of baby food sweet potatoes and/or squash blends (there are lots of them out there!!!)
  • Cans of sweet potatoes, squash and/or pumpkin (unsweetened)
  • Fresh fruit (this is not the best choice – but can work in a pinch!)

Fat Options:

  • Unsweetened Coconut chips/flakes
  • Raw coconut meat
  • Medium Chain Triglyceride oil (MCT oil)
  • Nuts and/or olives (not the best choices – but can work in a pinch)

According to Dr. Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet:

We believe that whey protein can have some potential adverse effects, because it greatly elevates insulinemia – although it can be therapeutic for diabetics in the short term. We suspect that whey protein could be detrimental long term, as hyperinsulinemia can down-regulate the insulin receptor and lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance underlies the Metabolic Syndrome, and is implicated in various other diseases, such as Acne, Alzheimer, various cancers, Coronary Heart Disease, Myopia, PCOS, and the like.

whey protein powder paleo diet

In this article, from Stupid Easy Paleo, the 5 main arguments against Whey and other protein powders are posed, yet again, ultimately the answer lies in your body.

1. Protein powders are processed products, not real food.
2. Whey protein is a dairy product – and/ or whey protein may not be tolerated by the user similar to the gluten and casein proteins. In addition, lactose intolerant users may or may not react to whey. 
3. Whey is obtained from low quality dairy (in other words, not grass fed) – does that really matter?
4. Are athletes the exception and does meal timing (ei post workout) really make a difference? 
5. Does using protein powders make you “less paleo”? 

Will you find protein powders calling themselves paleo? Yes. Absolutely. But I’ve also seen paleo “bars” using soy and agave. Just because it’s labeled paleo, doesn’t make it so. 

As for pea protein, I’m going to be very brief, while I don’t have a problem with peas – protein is best sourced from protein sources. If I’m adding protein to a recipe (like my lara bar look alikes), I’m more partial to egg whites or ground up beef jerky. 
Addressing the brown rice in this particular product, to me, and my body, and many others… Brown rice is the equivalent of the gastrointestinal anti-Christ. One teaspoon of brown rice causes me to swell/bloat almost instantaneously. It’s bran reacts almost identically to that of wheat. Even looking ancestrally at the consumption of rice, rice was  prepared by soaking and removing the bran. They may not have known why brown rice wasn’t tolerated or edible, but we do. That is because brown rice is full of phytates and lectins, which bind to vitamins and minerals and prevent them from being absorbed. 
This article by Ancestral Nutrition, goes into the hows and whys of brown vs white rice. 
Ultimately the choice to use whey protein is yours. You don’t need whey to get strong. You can get all your nutrition from real, whole foods. If you’re not an athlete, I strongly recommend against it. If whey fits your athletic goals, you may decide to use it…even if you’re Paleo in all other aspects. Be sure you understand it’s pros and cons, and how it affects your personal goals.